Pope Francis has already made Republicans incredibly uncomfortable by simply coming to visit the United States- and the pontiff is just getting started. On Tuesday, the patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church will address the U.S. Congress, where he is expected to chastise them for their irrational refusal to acknowledge the severity of climate change and their failure to alleviate the income inequality crisis affecting our nation.
Directly after his meeting with one of the most powerful groups of people in the world, he will proceed to eat lunch with one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world– the homeless of Washington D.C. With luck, Republican congressman will recognize the silent rebuke and be shamed by a true religious figure, for whom the plight of the homeless and the working poor is incredibly important.
On the other hand, Republicans in the House and Senate have all been complicit in the right-wing’s war on the poor and the homeless- a relentless campaign to demonize the victims of capitalist excess, to paint them as lazy and unfit, to blame for their own financial woes. The GOP’s constant efforts to cut away the social safety net and deny food-stamps and healthcare to children, cut funding to low-income houses, to criminalize homelessness, to make it easier for business to exploit their workers play a huge role in perpetuating poverty in America.
As Congress squares off for yet another government shutdown fight over the federal budget, we should remember what Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who shares many a common cause with the Pope, had to say on the Republican budget proposal that was put forth earlier this year– :
Meanwhile, as I understand the Republican view of our country, as manifested in the House and Senate budgets, it appears that millions of middle class and working families, people who are working longer hours for lower wages, people who have seen significant declines in their standard of living over the last 40 years, these people apparently do not need our help, rather they need to see a major reduction in federal programs that help make their lives, and the lives of their kids, a little bit better.
At a time when we have over 45 million Americans living in poverty – more than almost any time in the modern history of this country, my Republican colleagues think we should increase that number by cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, affordable housing, and Medicaid. At a time when almost 20 percent of our children live in poverty, by far the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth, my Republican colleagues think that maybe we should raise the childhood poverty rate a bit higher by cutting childcare, Head Start, the Child Tax Credit and nutrition assistance for hungry kids.
The contrast could not be clearer. No wonder the Republican Party is in such an uproar over his visit.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.